OPINION: One step forward, two steps back. As hard as the English rugby team tried, the longer they spent in New Zealand the worse they got.
Forwards who were awkward in their new roles and didn't manage to dominate the set pieces, and backs who made simple errors and couldn't work together, suggests that if coach Stuart Lancaster has a handle on the concepts of playing a grander version of the game, he either hasn't got the personnel among the throng of nearly two million players or he is selecting the wrong ones.
There will be much to ponder in the coming months back in the halls at Twickenham, while the All Black management pore over the Australian victories against an average French outfit to formulate the plan for the world-record 18th victory on the trot.
In South Africa, Wales demonstrated that if you match the locals in the physical stakes they are still lacking in ideas of how to out-think and out-manoeuvre the opposition, so nothing has changed really amongst the "big nations".
A team not hitting the headlines here but making big waves in the next tier down is Japan, who have now run up 10 consecutive victories against the likes of Canada, the Pacific countries and, most recently, the Six Nations side Italy. They are certainly on the climb and well worth a watch if you get the chance.
Meanwhile, the higgledy-piggledy world of Super Rugby will leap back on to the television screens tomorrow night as the contestants return to do battle, so take a deep breath and study exactly what is happening and what the permutations could be. Good luck.
By the way, the South African franchises are not on until next week!
To cut to the chase so that you have a handle on things, in three weeks the Waratahs will be the top side, the Crusaders will be second and the current leaders the Sharks will be third, with the Waratahs losing another final to the Crusaders. And this game is only five weeks away!
The Waratahs will beat the Brumbies and Highlanders at home and the Reds away.
The Crusaders will beat the Hurricanes away and the Blues and Highlanders at home, while the Sharks will win their remaining two matches against fellow countrymen the Cheetahs and the Stormers.
Led by the former "bully boy" in his playing days, coach Michael Cheika, and possessing an abundance of quality players in the likes of Israel Falou, Kurtley Beale, Will Skelton and Michael Hooper, the Waratahs are reeking of talent and experience and could finally get a notch in their belt after being beaten finalists in 2005 and 2008. They will be worth a watch.
New CEO John Smit, the former Springbok captain, and his World Cup-winning coach Jake White, are heading a return to success for the Sharks after an eighth placing last year. Possessing some really tough competitors in the form of the Du Plessis brothers, captain Bismarck and Doctor Jannie, who combine with the massive Tendai Mtawarira in the front row and with the likes of huge flanker Willem Alberts, they have plenty of beef.
However, it will remain to be seen whether White's suffocating game plan will do the trick.
Of course, it should be no surprise to anyone that the Crusaders have quietly worked their way to the top of the New Zealand franchises with three weeks remaining.
What will be interesting is how Todd Blackadder makes use of Kieran Read and Dan Carter, two pretty hot competitors when they are in good shape, with both returning after long absences.
So there it is. A possibility of an eighth title for the Crusaders. But wait, with three rounds to go after a month off things could change dramatically.
You'd better keep watching.
Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.
- Taranaki Daily News
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